Building a Habitat Pond

A ‘pond’ had already been dug, and it was full of water, but it was not really a pond that would sustain life. We wanted to create a pond that would be as ‘natural’ as possible, in a balanced environment: An attempt at ‘reconciliation ecology’. To accomplish that we determined we would need trees and shrubs to provide shade; a bog to filter incoming water, an overflow, a beach, circulation and aeration, and rocky edges to create areas that could be planted with a variety of emergent water plants.

Home Ground Habitats - Pond May 24 2020 - Charlie in the garden

We signed our lease in January 2019 and had hoped to get a good start right away on building out our new home ground. That was the year when we had 8” of rain in January and 17” of rain in February! So much rain all at once that the ground was like muck – the soggy soil would just ooze up over the tops of shoes of anyone daring to set foot in certain places.

The drainage problems were very evident, but we were not able to really start working until April, when the sogginess had settled. We dug numerous French drains from the top of the property to the top edge of the pond, which would become the bog. We also created swales and watercourses from other parts of the property, all lined with cobbles, and all leading to the bog, and then the pond.

Home Ground Habitats - 3-pond liner replaced Aug 2020Home Ground Habitats - 2 Pond Aug 2020

That done, we let the water in the existing pond dry out. It had not been dug properly, the sides were way too steep, and the surrounding areas needed to be re-shaped to a much more natural slope.

Home Ground Habitats - pond liner replaced Aug 2020

Home Ground Habitats - 4 Pond redigging - Aug 2020

By the late summer of 2020, the old liner was full of dried-out muck, and we were able to start removing the whole thing with the aid of some heavy equipment in order to reshape edges to a much gentler slope and dig out the area for the bog.

Home Ground Habitats - 6 Pond and wall Sep 2020

Since a bog also has to drain, but slowly, it was lined with scraps and pieces of the liner, which we punched some holes into. Then we laid in layers of sand and peat moss. Once we created the rocky walls and edges into the bog we topped it off with a special ‘acid soil’ mix, and then planted it with native plants that like their ‘feet to be wet’.

Home Ground Habitats - 7 Pond and berm Sep 2020

We created a berm on the driveway side of the pond as a visual ‘barrier’ and started planting native trees and shrubs in May of 2021. This berm is being irrigated with m-p rotator sprinklers set to spray in a narrow pattern.

In February of 2021, we laid in a whole new liner for the pond.

Home Ground Habitats - 9 Pond new path b 2021

Home Ground Habitats - 11 Pond Feb 2022

And then started filling it with water.

Home Ground Habitats - 12 Pond Feb 2022

Home Ground Habitats - 13 Pond March 2022
The rocks and stones we chose to edge our pond have really rough surfaces, which will help all sorts of water plants to colonize. We built rocky ‘waterfalls’ and underwater aeration systems. The waterfalls are all solar-powered; just the sound of running water attracts a lot of birds. The pond was also full of Pacific Treefrog tadpoles, which also brought in birds like Mallards, Egrets, and Crows, who seem to scope out every opportunity for food!

Home Ground Habitats - 14 - A visit by a Great White Egret

Home Ground Habitats - Pond Egret March 2022

An Egret White Egret is hunting along the beachy edge of the pond.

Home Ground Habitats - Pond algae May 2022

Home Ground Habitats - 17 Pond emergent plants May 1 2022
The heat of summer and warm water encourages the growth of algae. We skim that off from time to time, but leave the algae on the sides for a day or so, to allow any small creatures in it to escape back into the pond before the algae goes on our compost bins.

In the heat of summer the water level of the pond drops dramatically; to try to slow down the evapotranspiration we created shade by suspending ‘sails over the pond. We’ll remove them when the weather cools, and hopefully, the rainy season begins!

White Alders, Big-leaf Maples, Sycamores, Box Elders, and Elderberries will help create all-important shade as they mature. Shrubs such as Nine-bark, Buttonwillows, and Twinberries will enhance the pond edge habitat; and planted amongst these are a variety of nectar and seed-producing plants to offer still more resources for insects and birds.

The bog was planted out with Mule-fat, Seep-spring Monkeyflower, Cardinal Monkeyflowers, Yerba Mansa, and Pt. Reyes Checkerbloom. By May of 2022, we added a variety of pond-edge and emergent plants. One pathway at the pond edge is planted with Sedges, Goldenrod, and Yellow-eyed Grass.